Why investment in women is key to accelerating progress

The theme for this year's Women’s Day was 'Inspire Inclusion'

In Summary

• A self-governed pro-women global network is helping the gender realise its potential

Female employees exchange ideas across an office block
Female employees exchange ideas across an office block

A quick run through the full calendar year, you will not miss to notice at least five or more days set aside to acknowledge the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

While many look forward to celebrating women on these days, there’s still a noticeable gap in their inclusion, especially within the business and professional realm. It is not by chance, therefore, that for instance, this year’s International Women’s Day theme was Inspire Inclusion.

The theme spoke to the belief that inspiring others to understand and value women's inclusion helps to forge a better world, creating a sense of belonging, relevance and empowerment.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines “inclusion” as the experience people have in the workplace and the extent to which they feel valued for who they are, the skills and experience they bring and the extent to which they have a strong sense of belonging with others at work.

This year, organisations are urged to inspire women’s inclusion by championing women's economic empowerment by recruiting, retaining, and developing female Talent. Other ways include supporting women into leadership, decision-making, business, STEM professions and providing infrastructure that meets the unique needs of women.

Matt Bush, Culture Coaching Lead at Great Place to Work, opines that for inclusion to be achieved, the contribution, presence, and perspectives of different groups of people must be valued and integrated in an organisation.

Sallynavia Kamsa, Senior Human Resource Business Partner at Ipsos in Kenya, states in a December 2022 white paper on improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace, that employees who feel included are generally happy and more comfortable to share their ideas and experiences with others.

Employees during an Internal Brainstorming session
Employees during an Internal Brainstorming session


A 2023 agribusiness report by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) indicates that women in Africa are responsible for up to 80 per cent of food production and processing. However, the disappointing part is that they constitute only 38 per cent of the manufacturing workforce in the continent.

Global organisations – amongst them the Africa Union (AU), corporate bodies, civil society, and society in general, have a big role to play in ensuring inclusion of women in the workforce.

During the celebration of Africa Industrialisation Day on November 20th last year, the AU deliberately picked the theme "Accelerating Africa's Industrialisation through the Empowerment of African Women in Processing for an Integrated Market".

This deliberate step to put women at the heart of such key discourse walks in the footsteps of this year’s IWD theme. Involving women should not be a matter of striking gender equality quotas, but rather, about accelerating socioeconomic development.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that if women participate in manufacturing, a record 12 per cent increase in Gross Domestic Product will be achieved by 2030. It is being privy to these facts that organisations such as BAT Kenya have made it a priority to push for more women in their workforce. The organisation has at least 40 per cent of its total population comprising women, with a target to achieve a 50/50 gender representation by 2025. The Company’s executive leadership team has surpassed this target, with 60% women representation.

To champion women's inclusion in the workplace, BAT Kenya launched the Women in BAT (WiB) network in July 2021 – a self-governed global network encompassing individuals who are passionate about diversity, engaging and championing women – to realise their full potential.

WiB aims to equip women with resources to help them navigate their professional and personal lives, through tools such as coaching and mentoring, professional development, networking and engagement and enhancement of opportunities to collaborate across functions and markets. Within its local community, BAT Kenya rolled out the Rural Women Development Programme (RuWDeP) during the IWD 2023. The programme aims to empower more than 1,600 women from the Oyani and Malakisi tobacco leaf growing communities in Migori and Bungoma counties respectively.

“Women play a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of our communities. As part of our Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) platform, Ustawi, BAT Kenya is committed to delivering a positive impact by working with various stakeholders to empower Kenyans in its value chain. We believe that the RuWDep is an ideal vehicle to not only transform the lives of our women farmers but also support them to build sustainable livelihoods.” said Mimi Mavuti, Head of Business Communications and Sustainability for BAT Sub Saharan Africa Area.

Employees during an Internal Brainstorming session
Employees during an Internal Brainstorming session


Such corporate actions perfectly align with the AU recommendation for supporting women by building systems for industrial skills development.

Being a manufacturing company, BAT Kenya has ensured that the welfare of mothers in its workforce is catered for to create a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment. As part of its Parents@BAT programme, maternity leave was extended to four months for both biological and adoptive moms in addition to having two fully equipped mothers’ rooms for new mothers returning to work. Further, through their NextGen programme, BAT Kenya is building a legacy of diverse leaders, through coaching of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses at selected universities to prepare them for the world of work. 

Commenting on these initiatives, Head of Talent, Culture, and Inclusion for BAT Kenya and East African markets, Wendilene Yolanda Balie said; “Our highly motivated people are key to the success of our business. That is why we continue to progressively invest in initiatives that enhance inclusion at BAT through a deliberate and robust people agenda. We are of the conviction that it is only by motivating our people equitably that we will have a thriving workforce and a great place to work”.

By addressing gender disparities at workplaces and providing equal opportunities for women in industrialisation processes, Kenya and Africa can accelerate the journey towards inclusive growth and sustainable development.

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